alphonso daviesAt the age of 19, Alphonso Davies has become the face of Canadian soccer and one of the most highly regarded left-backs in the world. After winning two Bundesliga titles, two German Cups and Bundesliga Rookie of the Season for 2019-20, Davies became the first Canadian to win the European Champions League, club soccer’s most coveted prize. Although the teenager’s incredible skills already shine throughout Europe, his journey from a refugee camp to the soccer stadium is an even more fascinating tale.

Born in a Refugee Camp in Ghana

The Davies family is of Liberian origin. Alphonso’s parents, Debeah and Victoria Davies, once lived in Monrovia, the nation’s capital. When the second civil war broke out in Liberia in April 1999, the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) besieged the capital city. The war caused numerous deaths and displaced more than 450,000 Liberians from their homes, including the Davies parents. They soon fled their homeland and arrived in Buduburam, Ghana. Sheltering in a refugee camp, they struggled every day to find clean water and food. Additionally, as Dabeah Davies recollects, he sometimes had to carry guns just to survive. It was into this difficult life that the little Alphonso was born, in the refugee camp on November 2, 2000.

The Canadian Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP)

By the end of the twentieth century, there were approximately 18 million refugees and counting in the world. The global refugee problem is particularly serious in Africa, which harbors nearly half of the world’s refugees. Liberia, for example, was among the countries generating the most displaced persons at this time.

Without external assistance, life as a refugee would have appeared hopeless. Fortunately, the Davies family learned of the Canadian government’s Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP). This initiative helps international refugees resettle in Canada by providing direct financial support and other essential services. These include port of entry and reception, temporary accommodation and life skills training. The Davies family filled out forms, completed an interview and successfully relocated to Ontario when Alphonso was five. They eventually settled down in Edmonton, Alberta.

The Soccer Starlet

As a child in Edmonton, Alphonso Davies first played soccer in school teams. He then played through Free Footie, a local after-school soccer league for elementary schoolers who cannot afford registration fees, equipment or transportation to games. The coaches immediately discovered Davies’ talent and helped him make rapid progress. Davies joined the Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s Residency program at just 14 years old. One year later, he made history as the first player born in the 2000s to play Major League Soccer (MLS). In 2017, only weeks after having obtained his Canadian citizenship, Davies received the call from the Canadian men’s national team. He then became the youngest player to ever play and score on the national team.

The once-in-a-generation talent soon attracted interest from European clubs as well. In January 2019, Davies joined FC Bayern for a then-record transfer fee of $13.5 million. After his soaring season in Germany and strong performance against Chelsea and Barcelona in the European Champions League, the world  knows this soccer star by name. On the Champions League Final night, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, congratulated Davies on Twitter. Trudeau wrote: “A historic moment – you made Canadians proud out there.”

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Despite gaining global recognition as a soccer prodigy, Davies’ feet are rooted firmly on the ground. He has not forgotten the hard days he faced or the help he received. During his 2018 speech at a FIFA Congress, Davies recounted his moving journey from being a refugee in Africa to a professional soccer player in Canada.

Davies also collaborates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), endeavoring to inspire more refugees using his own story. In April 2020, in support of UNHCR’s COVID-19 appeal, Davies and fellow soccer player from refugee camp Asmir Begović held an eFootball PES 2020 live stream tournament. Their aim was to raise funds for the U.N. Refugee Agency’s COVID-19 response. This initiative ensures that national health plans include refugees and give them access to necessities like soap and clean water.

“I want to use my platform for causes that I care about,” said Davies. “As a former refugee myself I am very grateful for the help my family received, and the opportunities this opened up for me and where it has brought me. I hope that whilst people are keeping themselves and their families safe, they can also help support refugees who have lost everything.”

The success and promising future of Alphonso Davies as a soccer starlet from a refugee camp are beyond inspiring. Talent shines everywhere, so long as it can grow in an environment of support. With growing amounts of governmental and organizational assistance for global refugees, it is not irrational to expect success from young resettled people from all walks of life.

– Jingyan Zhang
Photo: Flickr

baseball players helping to fight povertyMajor League Baseball encompasses players from all around the world who go to North America to play the highest level of baseball. Players often come from humble beginnings and struggle along the way, in order to make it playing professional baseball. It isn’t uncommon for players to come from impoverished communities to play professional baseball. Players often want to give back to the people in their native communities who helped them achieve their dream, while also inspiring other athletes to help poverty-stricken communities. There are several professional baseball players helping to fight poverty. There are also baseball charity campaigns joining in the fight.

Baseball Players Helping to Fight Poverty

  1. David Ortiz: Ortiz grew up in the Dominican Republic and would later become a sports icon in Boston, winning three World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox. Ortiz founded the David Ortiz Children’s Fund to help children in Boston and his native country of the Dominican Republic have essential cardiac services that they need, like cardiac surgeries. To date, his children’s fund has provided over 1,600 low-income children with detection and screening for cardiac care, support for a regular rural outreach and detection program in the Dominican Republic and child life specialist support for over 4,000 children.
  2. Albert Pujols: Pujols also grew up in the Dominican Republic and is a three-time Most Valuable Player award winner and a two-time World Series Champion. In 2005, Pujols and his wife started the Pujols Family Foundation which aims to meet the needs of children with Down syndrome and improve the quality of life of impoverished people in the Dominican Republic. The foundation provides impoverished people in the Dominican Republic with health care, mentorship and education. The foundation set up a vocational school that teaches women how to sew and make jewelry. Over 18,000 people in the most desolate areas of the country have received medical care thanks to the foundation.
  3. Striking Out Poverty 2019: Throughout the 2019 baseball season, a number of individuals joined together to launch a campaign titled Striking Out Poverty 2019. The campaign is a joint initiative between Big League Impact and Food for the Hungry. Big League Impact helps impoverished communities have basic needs fulfilled like clean water, food and medical care. Food for the Hungry works in some of the poorest countries in the world, helping those most in need with food, along with educational and vocational training. Striking Out Poverty 2019 raised nearly $300,000 for these organizations through six sub-campaigns among individual players or teams.
  4. Luke Weaver: A pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Luke Weaver raised $132,610 through his 22X campaign, which will go towards helping Rohingya refugees. Weaver’s total amount raised came from his strikeout total which was 69. Through his donation and matching donations, each strikeout of his was worth $1,921.88.
  5. Nick Ahmed: Among the baseball players helping to fight poverty is Nick Ahmed. This shortstop for the Arizona Diamondbacks raised $104,575 from his Every Hit Makes a Difference campaign, part of which will go towards a community center in the Dominican Republic. The center will be a place for education and job training as well as a place to receive medicine. The total came through donations and his own contribution. Each hit of his amounted to $736.44 towards his campaign.

As an international sport that brings players together from all over the world and from all different backgrounds, baseball has the power to unite. Players like David Ortiz and Albert Pujols have given back to the communities that they grew up in, improving the lives of those who walk the same ground they walked before they were professional athletes. The Striking Out Poverty 2019 campaign has also helped individuals who are affected by poverty. The Professional baseball community and its fight against poverty shows the impact that can be made when individuals who have a platform help those in need.

Zachary Laird
Photo: Flickr

cost of fixing poverty
Global poverty appears to be a daunting problem. With numerous countries facing high rates of homelessness, economic instability and high child mortality rates, feasible solutions may seem out of reach. However, the cost of fixing poverty with solutions such as building water wells is not an astronomical figure. It actually costs about as much as one of America’s favorite pastimes: the NBA Disney season.

The Cost of a Season

The outbreak of COVID-19 forced the NBA season to go on hiatus. It only recently reopened — this time, in Walt Disney World. The NBA is paying Walt Disney World $1.5 million per day to host 22 professional basketball teams, totaling more than $150 million for the entire Disney season. The season includes eight missed, regular-season games and then playoffs. The overall cost covers essentials such as housing, courts, meals, COVID-19 testing, transportation, entertainment, medical support and security for the players and staff. When asked about the cost, Adam Silver, the NBA Commissioner, stated that it certainly was not economical for the league but that they felt an obligation to have a season.

The Cost of Poverty

With a total value of about $8 billion per year, the NBA’s usual revenue is about 20% of President Trump’s 2021 request for the USAID budget — which is about $41 billion. This request makes it clear that solving global poverty is not quite as big a task as it might seem. For example, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent $150 million in grants to provide hepatitis B vaccines to 4 million children. For 600,000 of these children, this was their first time receiving a vaccination. However, the foundation’s grant is equivalent to the $150-million 2020 NBA season in Disney World.

The cost of the 2020 NBA season could also make a dramatic difference in the lives of people in countries such as Afghanistan,  many of whom do not have access to clean water. The average cost of installing a water well is $8,000, although it can range from $1,700 to $30,000 depending on the location and difficulty of construction. Taking the price of an average well, $150 million could provide about 19,000 wells — each of which could serve roughly 2,000 people.

Who Would Benefit and How?

Access to clean water saves millions of lives and produces a series of solutions to poverty. Increasing access to safe water can prevent child and adult deaths from diseases such as diarrhea, malaria and malnutrition. With 19,000 wells serving about 2,000 people each, approximately 38 million people would benefit from the same amount of money that the NBA used for the end of their 2020 season. The poorest city in the world, Kabul, Afghanistan, has a population of 4.38 million people. An investment in wells equivalent to the 2020 NBA season would not only grant access to clean, safe water for all of Kabul’s population but to all of Afghanistan’s population of 37.17 million people.

A Comparison for Thought: The Cost of Fixing Poverty

The NBA season holds a lot of value to people in the United States, and it is clearly not the NBA’s responsibility to provide money for foreign aid. What the 2020 NBA season proved, however, is that the cost of fixing poverty is comparable to the cost of leisure and athletic entertainment. Understanding that the same NBA budget of $150 million could serve 38 million people makes the cost of fixing poverty a bit more concrete. Hopefully, this enables policy-makers and policy influencers in the United States to prioritize foreign aid.

Alyssa Hogan
Photo: Flickr

Playing sports can foster development for developing countries
The implementation of sports programs provides children with the opportunity to learn teamwork, participation and leadership qualities. Physical activity also stimulates health improvements and offers children equal opportunities to engage in activities. Large, sports associations also spread awareness of global poverty and extend campaigns to a much greater audience. Therefore, sports can foster development in developing nations.

World Health Organization (WHO)

In 2018, the World Health Organization published a global action plan to increase the amount of physical activity worldwide. WHO plans to create a healthier world by 2030. Their strategy is to deliver various selections of physical activity including sports, recreational activities and walking. WHO specifically wants to create opportunities for women, middle-aged adults and individuals with debilities. Currently, 75% of children and 25% of adults do not satisfy the global standard for physical activity. Exercise is essential for healthcare and the development of a nation. Physical activity has also been confirmed to prevent heart disease, diabetes, cancer and mental health illnesses. Physical activity is important for child development, teaching children numerous lessons and qualities. Therefore, WHO targets to increase the amount of regular physical activity to reduce the amount of premature mortality. The WHO’s physical activity plan will also further aide in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

UNICEF

UNICEF has also designed sports programs to protect children from violence, disrupt inequality norms and eliminate limits on participation based on physical capabilities. The nonprofit organization strives for “inclusive sport.” UNICEF believes that sports will bring communities together in a positive setting. Sports also provide children with disabilities the opportunity to recognize their potential.  From 2010 to 2013, the Montenegro government and UNICEF ran an “It’s about ability” campaign. The campaign’s primary goal was to create a more accepting society. At the end of the campaign, Montenegro’s citizens recorded more than a 40% increase in citizen approval of their children being in the same class as a child with disabilities. This newfound acceptance will further benefit Montenegro’s government and economy. Therefore, sports can foster development in developing nations.

NFL Athlete Josh Doctson

Over the past couple of months, the coronavirus has dictated several shutdowns across the globe. The rise in the uncertainty of the virus has influenced several U.S. athletes to skip on this year’s upcoming season. One NFL star, Josh Doctson, has decided to sit-out this season and advocate for the world’s poor. Mr. Doctson plans on visiting several African countries, including Rwanda, in hope that he will raise awareness for the underprivileged. The NFL player’s decision to conduct a humanitarian campaign has attracted a lot of attention thus far and therefore already raised attentiveness for the cause.

Sports Events

Local sports events have the potential to generate employment and incentivize the production of goods and services related to the event. Sportanddev.org reports that marathon events hosted by local communities in Peru create a host of economic opportunities. One race, in particular, generated a manufacturing demand and a surge in tourism activities.

Sports programs have been proven to create safe environments, disrupt societal norms and teach children valuable lessons. If implemented appropriately, sports can foster development in developing nations. Nonprofit organizations, international sports teams and professional players also spread global awareness for poverty and inequality. As sports products become widely available globally, sports programs will begin to be implemented at an increasing rate and further contribute to the health, development and success of a nation’s upcoming generation and their economy.

John Brinkman
Photo: Flickr

Jamaica's First Skatepark
Will Wilson, the co-founder of nonprofit organization Flipping Youth, is building Jamaica’s first skatepark. Wilson and his nonprofit are building Freedom SkatePark in an effort to make action sports an accessible recreational opportunity for Jamaican youth.

What Is Flipping Youth?

After an exposure to international poverty while volunteering abroad, passionate skateboarder Will Wilson came up with the idea for Flipping Youth — a nonprofit organization driven by the mission to “empower young people from challenging environments internationally through action sports, creative arts and entrepreneurship.” This unique idea has propelled Wilson to accomplish great acts of service in impoverished countries, specifically Jamaica. In addition to fostering strong skating communities, Flipping Youth seeks to promote youth entrepreneurship, teach business skills and improve employability.

Flipping Youth in Jamaica

After watching a viral skate video that showcased a talented, Jamaican skater and a budding skateboarding community in 2016 — Wilson decided to bring Flipping Youth to Kingston, Jamaica. The idea was to help grow the skateboarding community even more. Since then, Flipping Youth has developed both local and international relationships to better understand what sort of aid is most needed in Jamaica. Flipping Youth’s main goal at the time was to decide the best way to implement the Freedom SkatePark, in an effort to foster a strong community of Jamaican youth. Also, safety is an important feature of the program for Wilson. He wants to ensure that the skatepark will become neither a place for drugs nor other criminal activities.

Progress Through Partnerships

Though the planning and building process has been slow, the future looks promising for Jamaica’s first skatepark. Thanks to funding from popular skate brands such as Supreme New York and a partnership with a nonprofit called Concrete Jungle Foundation, the Freedom Skate Park is nearly complete. Notably so, Concrete Jungle Foundation helped to complete over half of the project, including the construction of the park, itself.

Kevin Bourke, a member of the Freedom Skatepark team, celebrated overcoming many obstacles throughout the project’s duration, stating “It shows that a project that was rooted in love [can’t] be stopped.”

Improving Communities Through Sports and Activities

Flipping Youth is not the only organization using recreational opportunities to empower youth, globally. In the past, UNESCO has used youth sports programs to encourage social cohesion in areas of conflict. Organizations like Flipping Youth understand the value of recreational opportunities for youth in struggling communities. Recreation is not just for fun; according to Dr. Seiko Sugita of UNESCO Beirut, “Sports [have] proven to be a cost-effective and powerful tool for promoting peace and human values such as respect for others, teamwork, discipline, diversity and empathy.”

Recreation and Youth Empowerment

Working from a similar approach, Will Wilson’s project to create Jamaica’s first skatepark is an example of international development rooted in recreational opportunities and youth empowerment. Flipping Youth and other organizations look to sports and activities as a means of creating strong, vibrant communities and thus — a better future for younger generations and society as a whole.

Courtney Bergsieker
Photo: Pixabay

Tennis in Poverty-Stricken Countries
Around the world, people have always considered tennis to be an aristocratic sport. Although tennis is one of the most popular sports worldwide, many people in poor nations simply do not have the infrastructure to play. However, tennis in poverty-stricken countries is growing in popularity. From post-Soviet European societies to rapidly developing African nations, tennis is spreading to a diverse community of people all over the world, and it is helping catalyze the development of under-resourced areas.

Rising Stars: Tennis in Eastern Europe

One prominent example is the effect that tennis has had in Eastern Europe and the Balkan region. The brutal internal conflict spanning nearly 20 years at the end of the 20th century centered around border disputes and ethnic boundaries between Serbians, Bosnians and Croatians. As war ravaged the former Yugoslavia, tennis became an outlet for many youths to escape the conflict and make a name for themselves. One such youth was a boy named Novak Djokovic, who went on to receive wide regard as one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

Djokovic, who experienced his transformative years in Belgrade, Serbia during the late 1990s, described growing up with tremendous adversity. Like other tennis players, he sometimes had to play in abandoned swimming pools because the courts experienced bombing. Partially accrediting his later success to this difficult childhood, Djokovic recalled one period from 1999: “We were waking up every single night at 2 or 3 a.m. for two and a half months because of the bombings.” He went on to articulate that “these experiences made me a champion, it made us tougher, made us more hungry for success.”

The “us” he refers to is his cadre of fellow Eastern European tennis players from war-torn or poverty-stricken countries in the 1990s. The Serbs took the tennis world by storm in the 2000s, dominating both men’s and women’s tours. Janko Tipsarević, Filip Krajinović, Nenad Zimonjic, Jelena Janković and Ana Ivanović are just a few examples. The popularity of tennis radiated from the war-torn Balkan nations northward to poor post-Soviet states like Bulgaria, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltics, and even to Russia. All of these countries now have players in the top 100 world rankings.

Progress On and Off the Courts

Though one cannot overlook the impact of the sport on world rankings, tennis has also helped develop and unify struggling nations. Extracurricular programs and character development among children are just a few positive side-effects of tennis. Indeed, following the conflict at the end of the 20th century, Balkan nations have seen relative progression and development. This formula of development through tennis also appears in other regions of the world.

Africa suffers from many circumstances similar to the Balkans such as poverty, despair and ethnic conflict. Tennis in poor countries in Africa can offer incremental progress toward building strong young people for the future and mending broken societies. Many organizations share this vision. Tennis in Africa, a nonprofit organization, is trying to kickstart tennis infrastructure in Ghana and other nations to help build not only technical tennis skills but also life skills to bring families out of extreme poverty. In July 2018, locals received a tennis clinic in Ghana well. Organizations like Tennis in Africa provide year-round training for impoverished youth on the continent, helping cultivate the seeds of growth and development in an underprivileged area of the world.

Working in conjunction with other support efforts, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) development fund has its sights set on the African continent too. Being the central governing body of tennis, the ITF raised its budget by 12% to a total of $11.3 million in 2019. The ITF works to give underprivileged athletes financial support in traveling and making a living through tennis, while also covering other areas of development like coaching, facilities and administration to underprivileged communities. In addition to these organizations, some of the most successful tennis players in the world, like Rafael Nadal, are using tennis as a means of an education — both physical and emotional — all over the world. In one such project that the Rafa Nadal Foundation conducted, underprivileged youth in India received access to tennis and education through Nadal Educational Tennis School (NETS). NETS aims to alleviate extreme poverty in Anantapur, India by enrolling over 200 disadvantaged children each year. NETS is just one example of how tennis can be a positive societal force to spur progress, especially for future generations.

Hope for Tennis Players Worldwide

Though tennis has traditionally been a sport of privilege and wealth, the modern game is seeing many new faces from disadvantaged parts of the world. Especially for young people, tennis in poverty-stricken countries offers a unique opportunity for character development, as well as building healthy physical habits. Beginning with Eastern Europe, tennis has had an overwhelmingly positive social influence, helping nations recover from economic, social and political upheaval. There is no reason why the sport should not receive extension into underdeveloped nations across the world, providing a vehicle to help lift people out of extreme poverty.

Zak Schneider
Photo: Flickr

Tackling Global Poverty
Through charity and missionary work, five NFL stars are tackling global poverty. Celebrities making substantial contributions to global poverty reduction is a sure-fire inspirational lift. These individuals also provide a refreshing glimpse into how NFL stars give back where it counts.

5 NFL Stars Tackling Global Poverty

  1. Tom Brady has appeared in the previous three Super Bowls and has walked away with six rings out of his nine historic appearances. In addition to these accolades and a Wikipedia page the size of a full-length novel, Tom Brady is accomplishing substantial impact off the football field. Tom Brady has participated in charity work with five different charities: Best Buddies International, Boys & Girls Club, Eastern Congo Initiative, Entertainment Industry Foundation and KaBOOM!. The Best Buddies International nonprofit organization, that Brady founded, dedicates itself to intellectually and developmentally disabled people. Brady works with Best Buddies International and has aided in fundraising of $20 million in the last six years.
  2. Chris Long, former Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman and two time Super Bowl champion, has teamed with Doug Pitt, the Tanzania Goodwill Ambassador, to create the Waterboys initiative. The two football players have enlisted other players to raise resources and funds for the Waterboys, a clean water project in Tanzania. Long has personally raised over $543,000 for clean water sanitation. The initiative locates remote villages in need of clean water and hires crews to install solar-powered well, which provides clean water. Currently, the Waterboys have funded 83 wells that have impacted 345,000 people.
  3. Kelvin Beachum, an offensive tackle for the New York Jets, has a commitment to ending world hunger through charitable efforts. Beachum has worked with Bread for the World, World Vision and Feeding America. He has even donated his time by traveling to Honduras to aid World Vision. This nonprofit organization has helped over 3.5 million children in nearly 100 countries since 1950.
  4. Nnamdi Asomugha, a former cornerback for the Oakland Raiders, has set new heights by tackling global poverty through charity work. As the founder of the Asomugha Foundation, he established this organization to empower orphans and widows in Nigeria to pursue higher education. The core of the foundation is to bring about the opportunity of higher education to transform impoverished communities. The Asomugha Foundation also provides food, shelter and medicine to victims of poverty and abuse in Nigeria.
  5. Nate Sudfeld is another Super Bowl attending quarterback who knows what it takes to score big off the field. Sudfeld has been making contributions to the nonprofit Assist International. This nonprofit has 500 projects through 65 countries where Sudfeld has traveled to Romania, Africa and several additional countries to aid poverty reduction efforts. Such contributions have impacted people who lead poverty-stricken lives by improving the quality of life.

Five NFL stars are tackling global poverty while creating a powerful impression on the U.S. population. These players continue to make history on and off the field through charity where even the smallest contributions change human lives by reducing global poverty.

– Andre Davis 
Photo: Pixabay

Goals for Girls: Sports and Empowerment“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they can understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination,” said South African anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela. Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. More than 240 million people play soccer. At least 30 million girls participate in the sport. Goals for Girls helps young women across the globe score their own goals and celebrate empowerment.

Goals For Girls

Goals for Girls changes the world of young women. It started with a team of 16-year-old soccer players who opted to impact the world through soccer rather than compete at an international tournament. Now, Goals for Girls has teamed up with funding agencies, new partners and stars of the U.S. women’s national soccer team to teach and develop young women into agents of change through soccer. The organization aspires to give each young girl the tools to become a world changer.

Sports offer many psychological and physical benefits for girls and women. People who participate in sports benefit from a more positive body image, self-concept and overall well-being. In 2016, Saudi Arabia sent four women to compete in the Rio Olympics. This historical move represented a forward shift for women in Saudi Arabia. Before, they had faced discrimination and had restricted rights; they still do.

Maria Toorpakai, a Pakistani squash player, uses her sport to face and fight the Taliban. She gained their attention as she rose to fame. She moved to Canada to train, but she hopes to go back to Pakistan to bring sports to boys and girls. The U.S. women’s national soccer team is paid one-fourth of what their male counterparts are, but it is paving the way for the equal pay movement.

India

India hosted the first Goals for Girls program in 2014. The program tackled awareness, communication, teamwork and goal-setting. These are the four international summit pillars of Goals for Girls. The organization aimed to facilitate activities that help with issues the young girls faced on a regular basis like gender-based violence, child marriage and education inequality.

Child marriage has been practiced for centuries in India. In 2016, 27 percent of marriages were child marriages. Luckily, this is improving. Child marriage has decreased from 47 percent in 2006. Child marriage facilitates the cycle of poverty which enables malnutrition, illiteracy and gender discrimination. Child marriage also perpetuates a cycle of gender-based violence and education inequality.

Girls are more likely to be pulled from educational opportunities. Additionally, girls who marry young tend to have lower educational levels and are perceived as an economic liability to their family. UNICEF is working with the Indian government to forgo child marriage through girls’ empowerment, which aligns with the mission of Goals for Girls.

South Africa

South Africa became a country of focus after the launch of the program in 2007. In South Africa, the program centers around the aforementioned international pillars, but the activities are tailored toward issues plaguing girls in South Africa like HIV, teenage pregnancy and education inequality.

There have been strides made in recent years to combat the HIV epidemic. Despite having the largest antiretroviral treatment program globally, South Africa still has the highest prevalence of HIV in the world. Poverty, along with gender-based violence and gender inequality, perpetuates the discrepancy between gender and HIV rates. In 2016, South Africa implemented the “She Conquers” campaign to increase economic opportunities for women, prevent gender-based violence and keep girls in school.

Sports have been a platform for change for many women on a global scale. Goals for Girls is working to make that change even stronger. It is providing girls with education, teamwork building skills and important life skills. Its ultimate goal is women’s equality.

Gwendolin Schemm
Photo: Flickr

Sports have always been integral in society. They serve as an outlet for many to escape their daily troubles and exist as a way to unify groups of people. Athletes in modern times are lauded for their skill and their lavish lifestyles. However, the truth of the matter is that many of these competitors did not grow up with the privileges they have earned today. These are five athletes that rose from poverty.

5 Athletes Who Rose From Poverty

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo: Hailed as one of the greatest soccer players of all time, Ronaldo did not have an easy upbringing. Ronaldo was born in a poor neighborhood in Fungal, Portugal in 1985. His father was an equipment manager at a local soccer club while his mother was a cook and a housekeeper. Ronaldo did not grow up with much but grew fond of soccer because of his father’s profession. After being recruited by a local boys’ soccer club, Ronaldo left his family to go to Lisbon at the age of 12. Despite being frequently ostracized due to his thick accent, Ronaldo kept surging forward. At age 16, Manchester United signed Ronaldo to a more than $14 million contract. This was the largest ever given to a player his age. Ronaldo went on to win a plethora of awards and accolades for his feats in soccer. Outside of soccer, Ronaldo has been extremely charitable. In 2015, Ronaldo donated more than $6 million to help those impacted by the earthquake in Nepal. Ronaldo also worked to improve medical facilities in Portugal. His net worth currently sits at $460 million, making Ronaldo the wealthiest of these five athletes who rose from poverty.
  2. Jose Aldo: A renowned UFC fighter, Aldo is another athlete that vanquished the detrimental effects of poverty. Aldo was born into a poor household in the city of Manaus in Brazil. Aldo’s father was a bricklayer while his mother was a housewife. Love tied the family of six together, but that took a turn when his mother and father split when Aldo was young. Aldo stayed with his father. Frequent street fights prompted Aldo to learn capoeira. Despite being talented, capoeira classes were draining his finances, so he moved on to pursue jiu-jitsu with his mentor, Marcio Pontes. At age 17, Aldo went to Rio de Janeiro without a dime to his name. There were days when he had little to no food, but this did not disrupt his resolve. Aldo currently holds the most wins in UFC and WEC featherweight history. He is a two-time UFC Featherweight Champion and one-time WEC Featherweight Champion. Outside of the ring, Aldo also routinely performs charity work and donates funds to help those in need. In 2015, Aldo played in a charity soccer match in his home country to raise food for people in need; it was immensely successful.
  3. Kassim Ouma: A former professional boxer, Kassim Ouma has, perhaps, the most appalling story out of these five athletes who rose from poverty. Born into extreme poverty in Uganda in 1978, Ouma’s life was already very difficult. At the age of five, he was kidnapped from his family and forced to join the National Resistance Army. Ouma was trained to do horrific things that no child should have to bear. Ouma did not see his family for three years. In 1998, Ouma was considered to have deserted the Ugandan army because of his venture to the U.S. to compete in a boxing tournament. Ouma pursued boxing to make money and ensure that his family never has to share his experiences. Ouma went on to win the IBF world junior middleweight title in 2004. He serves as an activist for global issues surrounding poverty despite being unable to physically return to Uganda. Furthermore, in 2006, Ouma started a charity called Natabonic Incorporated to help the needy in Uganda.
  4. Yasiel Puig: Surrounded by poverty and suboptimal living conditions, Yasiel Puig had longed to go to the United States and play baseball from an early age. Puig was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba. Puig played baseball for Cuba, but he only earned $17 per month due to the impoverished conditions as a product of the Castro dictatorship. As a result, Puig became desperate to go to the U.S. and play baseball there. In June 2012, when he was successfully smuggled to Mexico by an illicit group with ties to the drug cartel, Los Zetas. Through negotiations with the president of two Miami companies, Raul Pacheco, Puig was released and went on to play for the Dodgers. In the field, Puig founded the Wild Horse Children Foundation to inspire children in less affluent communities and ensure that they do not struggle with the same things that he did.
  5. Bibiano Fernandes: The last of these five athletes who rose from poverty is Bibiano Fernandes. His resilience can be attributed to his early life struggles. Like Jose Aldo, Fernandes was born in Manaus, Brazil. His mother died when Fernandes was seven years old and his father left his five kids because he could not provide for them. After scavenging and begging on the streets, Fernandes went hunting for food in the Amazon forest. He and his siblings stayed there for several years. Fernandes returned to the city after contracting an illness that nearly killed him. He discovered jiu-jitsu while washing car windows at a streetlight near a dojo. After some assistance from a friend, Fernandes was able to partake in lessons at the dojo and soon became a top student. He evolved into one of the best jiu-jitsu fighters in the world, winning three championships. He has since taken up MMA fighting with a Canadian mentor.

Sports are an avenue for athletes to get their stories heard. These five athletes who rose from poverty are a small sample of athletes who have endured a significant amount to attain success. As acclaimed Olympian, Emil Zatopek once said, “An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets. He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head”.

Jai Shah
Photo: Flickr

Professional Athletes Who Grew Up Impoverished
The world’s population of human beings is vast and immensely complex. Across the planet, thousands of different languages, religions and traditions contribute to the everyday lives of its people. However, nearly all civilizations have one thing in common: sports. Since the development of the most ancient civilizations, humans have created numerous ways to come together and pass the time with recreation. It continues to be a major aspect of society today, so much so that athletes such as Argentinian soccer player Lionel Messi receive as much as $127 million per year. It is no secret that professionals like Messi are some of the highest-paid individuals in the world, but many of them had extremely difficult upbringings. Here are four professional athletes who grew up impoverished and used their past as motivation for the improvement of their future.

4 Professional Athletes Who Grew Up Impoverished

  1. Pelé: Pelé, one of the greatest soccer players of all time, has helped his Brazilian team win three World Cups throughout his career. He was born in Três Corações, Brazil, in 1940. He lived in extreme poverty during his childhood and developed most of his early soccer skills by playing with a makeshift bundle of rags that hardly resembled a soccer ball. Pelé’s story is a prime example of how a common cultural element such as recreation has the power to propel someone into an entirely new way of life. In 2018, Pelé launched a self-named foundation “to help children of the world better their lives as people in [his] childhood helped [him] to better [his].” The Pelé Foundation has since partnered with Pencils of Promise and Charity: Water to fulfill its mission of helping the world’s impoverished youth.
  2. Bibiano Fernandes: Bibiano Fernandes, also known as “The Flash” for his ability to finish fights so early, is one of the most successful fighters in both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts (MMA). He was born in Manaus, a city located near the Amazon rainforest. After his mother died and his father abandoned the family, 8-year-old Fernandes took to the jungle as a means of survival. He lived off of the land for approximately two years before returning to the city. Once he went back to Manaus, he worked as a window washer. During this seemingly hopeless point in his life, he met a group of men who practiced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. They accepted him into their training group and he grew into a champion. For a child who took to the forest to avoid starvation, the grappling sport was a lifeline, an opportunity for Fernandes to quite literally fight his way out of poverty. Today, he aims to reach retirement and continue to provide for his wife and children. He prides himself on having worked hard for his accomplishments and encourages his fans to pursue their goals regardless of how impossible they may seem.
  3. Yasiel Puig: Yasiel Puig has played for three major American baseball teams: the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cincinnati Reds and now the Cleveland Indians. His nickname is “The Wild Horse” because of his unpredictable, exciting way of playing. Born into poor conditions in Cuba, Puig developed an interest in baseball at a very early age. His desire to escape his hometown and play for Mexico resulted in a journey that would change his life forever. At the age of 21, Puig snuck out of Cuba on a cigarette boat. What should have been a relatively smooth journey became complicated by the fact that the smugglers did not receive the pay they were to receive for transporting the baseball player. Restless and angry, they held him captive, occasionally threatening to cut off an arm or a finger so that he would never play baseball again. Several long, difficult weeks passed before Puig finally reached his destination. A staged kidnapping ambushed his captors and soon landed Puig at his audition to play for Mexico City. Puig proves that no matter how treacherous life’s ventures may be, the child inside remains alive and strong enough to push one forward towards their wildest dreams.
  4. Kassim Ouma: Kassim Ouma has one of the most unique stories among these professional athletes who grew up impoverished. He was born in Uganda and lived in extreme poverty until the age of 6 when his life abruptly flipped upside down. It was at this age that the National Resistance Army kidnapped Ouma, a militant force revolting against the Ugandan government. The resistance forced him to fight as a child soldier until the war ceased roughly three years later. Once he returned home, he began working to build a better future for him and his family. He took up boxing and trained his way to the Ugandan national boxing team, and later decided to stay in the U.S. after visiting for a tournament. Ouma serves as an example to all that even the darkest beginnings can lead to light at the end of the tunnel. He now uses his influence to advocate for change in Africa and runs a charity organization called Natabonic, which helps to fund education for his friends and family in his home village of Maga Maga.

These professional athletes who grew up impoverished serve as reminders that with hope and compassion, one can fight (and win) even the most impossible battles. Of course, not every starving child on the planet is going to become a world-renowned athlete and sports will not lead all participants out of poverty.  However sports can be a path to a better life and these stories emphasize that recreation brings people together, and where people come together, anything is possible.

– Harley Goebel
Photo: Flickr